Résumé includes salmon, bison and horses

Veterinary student Nick Hawkins

Third-year veterinary student Nick Hawkins with one of the horses involved in his summer research project. Photo: Christina Weese.

Nicholas Hawkins was born and raised in Humboldt, Sask., just one hour from Saskatoon. But his journey into the veterinary medicine program at the University of Saskatchewan was a much longer trip than 100 kilometres down the highway.

Shortly after high school, following a tip from his scuba-diving older brother, Hawkins landed an aquaculture job at a Chinook salmon farm on Vancouver Island.

“There were 1.2 million fish and three employees,” says Hawkins. “I got to see all aspects of the industry, and everything was brand new — I had to learn to drive a tugboat instead of a tractor.”

Some of Hawkins’ work involved helping the farm’s veterinarian, Dr. Diane Morrison, a 1992 graduate of the Ontario Veterinary College. “I thought that part of the job was really challenging,” says Hawkins. “I really liked the problem solving aspect.”

After six years on the salmon farm, Hawkins returned to Saskatchewan and completed a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture (animal science) degree at the U of S in 2010. Shortly after graduation, he was accepted into the Western College of Veterinary Medicine’s Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program.

Last summer, Hawkins was a research student for Dr. Gregg Adams in the WCVM’s Department of Veterinary Biomedical Sciences. He participated in a study that looked at induced ovulation in wood bison, gaining a lot of hands-on experience practising palpations on bison cows.

“It’s not like working with cattle, and we were doing some pretty intricate procedures with them,” says Hawkins. “But luckily, we got to work with a really well-trained herd. They’re used to being in the squeeze chute and being handled. It was interesting, that’s for sure.”

This summer brought another significant opportunity – participation in Dr. Joe Bracamonte’s laparoscopic research project. The study involved standing surgeries on six horses, plus follow-up laparoscopies to check the site of the sutures.

Normally, Bracamonte’s graduate student would have been involved in this type of project. But due to timing issues, the opportunity was opened up to undergraduate veterinary students and Hawkins was ultimately chosen for the job that was supported by the WCVM’s Equine Health Research Fund.

For a third-year veterinary student, gaining this much surgical exposure was a very special opportunity. Hawkins describes his summer using words such as “amazing” and “fantastic.”

But it also involved a huge learning curve. “I was basically the cameraman,” he explains. “I drove the laparoscopic camera around and made sure Dr. Bracamonte could see what he needed to be doing.”

Not only did Hawkins learn how to manoeuvre a camera deep inside a horse’s abdomen, he also learned to anticipate Bracamonte’s moves and what views the surgeon would need to be able to do his job.

“It’s shown me how much I really do love surgery,” says Hawkins. “I love being hands on and being able to see your results right away. It’s the problem solving aspect again — it comes back to being presented with a challenge and trying to think your way through it.”

Between research surgeries, Hawkins was also able to watch other large animal surgeries happening at the WCVM’s Veterinary Medical Centre and follow incoming cases from start to finish.

“Going through the whole process with the vets here at the college has been awesome,” he says.

Working in the Large Animal Clinic and working with the residents has also given Hawkins a detailed view of the different career paths available.

“Before, I didn’t really have any idea what the difference was between an intern and resident – what benefits they have, or what you would be doing. It’s awesome that we have a teaching hospital here where we’re actually able to be exposed to that.”

Hawkins’ wife is also a student at the U of S, completing her fourth year in the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition. After graduating, they both hope to stay in Saskatchewan. “We love it here despite the 40 below winters!” says Hawkins, laughing.

He also likes the idea of working in a rural practice, something that doesn’t appeal to everyone. “I prefer working with large animals,” he says. “I like the small community aspect and the idea of being an integral part of that community.”

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